Sunday, September 14, 2008

basic bread recipe

baking your own bread is very simple. the ingredients are cheap and easy to source. the basic recipe consists of only 4 ingredients, namely flour, yeast, salt and water.

yeast plays the leavening role here though you could substitute with baking powder for "quick breads".

of course, you need measuring cups, spoon and an oven too!

my first 2 attempts at bread baking was an utter disaster. i got interested after reading all those "no knead bread" blog posts around the net. tried it but instead of getting soft fluffy bread, all i got was tough hard-to-chew bread, if we could still call it bread.

i later traced this to the mistake of not paying attention to the yeast i bought! i bought active dry yeast but thought it was instant yeast.

be careful here! you could make this mistake too!

there are 3 types of commercially available that yeast i know of, fresh yeast, dry yeast and instant yeast.

both fresh and dry needs to be "activated" first before mixing with flour. activation requires mixing the yeast into lukewarm water and then wait 5-10 minutes where you'll begin to see the water become cloudy and bubbly. this is when you know your yeast is ready to begin work.

instant yeast could be mixed into the flour right away but not dry yeast. be careful here!

okay, here's my basic recipe. works every time. every bread i've baked is just variations of this.
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • approximately 2 cups of lukewarm water (read on)
to begin, heat some water (preferably filtered water as we don't want chlorine here) until boiling point. then mix into equal quantities of room temperature water. total volume of about a cup.

this will be about just nice for yeast to grow. about our body temperature. to test, put in your finger. it should feel a bit warm but not uncomfortably hot until you need to pull out your finger. easy test huh?

then pour in 1 teaspoon of honey. the purpose of honey is for the yeast to feed on. you could substitute with sugar or malt extract. understand the rationale here. once you do, then you understand it wouldn't matter at all even if i were to put in one tablespoon of honey.

once your lukewarm water + honey mixture is ready, put in your teaspoon of yeast. stir it. 5-10 minutes later, the mixture will be cloudy and bubbly. excellent!

now if you are using active yeast, you could skip all the above and just go to the next step. i prefer to use dry yeast as i could test whether my yeast is alive. with instant yeast, you only know it's dead when it hasn't risen in hours!

now it's time to mix into your flour mixture. put the 4 cups of flour into in a large bowl and make a little well in the center. pour in the yeast mixture. then stir...

okay, here's where i get a little unscientific here. i don't care how much water any bread recipe calls for as i don't care whether the resultant bread is more french or italian, or has a higher water extraction blah blah blah... my other hobbies are wood working and electronic stuffs, so permit me to be a little unscientific here. baking bread is very relaxing for me and i surely don't want all that details to curtail my enjoyment.

to me, bread is bread! so i usually just add more lukewarm water until the resultant dough is slightly sticky on your hands. if it's too sticky, add more flour! if it's too dry, add more water! see? so simple! but add 1 tablespoon at a time, so that you don't overdo it.

most likely you'll have to use your hand here to mix everything up. don't worry if it looks like a mess. once you mix everything up, we'll stop for a break here and wait about 20 minutes. this process is called "autolyse" - a rest period giving everything to settle down together and let the yeast grow a little. you could skip the autolyse process and add salt into the flour first but autolyse helps you develop better bread and reduces kneading time. here's one important point to remember. never never mix salt with yeast. the idea of salt is to slow down the yeast fermentation process. if you mix salt into yeast directly, it'll kill it. remember this!

so after the autolyse period, you knead the dough and knead in the salt, little pinches each time.

here's a pretty good video on kneading.

YouTube - Kneading Bread Dough

after kneading, put into a large bowl and cover with cling film or a moist towel. then wait... magically after about 2 hours, the dough would have doubled in volume! however, if it hasn't risen much, do not despair as yeast activity is greatly affected by ambient temperature. i usually place in a cool place and let it rise slowly. with rich doughs, sometimes i wait up till 8 hours. it doesn't matter as the longer the yeast works on the bread, the better the overall flavour.

then you need to do "proofing". this video explains so well!

YouTube - Second Rise (Proofing)

the idea of "punching down" shown at the beginning of the video is to distribute the trapped air bubbles inside the dough so that the resultant bread won't have just large holes at the top but little holes everywhere inside. the dough is then stretched so that the yeast can be exposed to more starch and let it feed on again, and thus release more air into the dough.

then finally bake into an oven at about 200 C for 20-25 minutes.



  1. Hi BG: I just found a No Knead Bread Recipe. I know. Where's the fun in that? But it works, oddly. I shall try it and try your recipe. Perhaps the No Knead Bread appeals to the lazy bums in all of us.... or when we're in a hurry and want bread without the work.

  2. hi maya

    that was the recipe i tried the first 2 times i baked bread.

    total disaster as i didn't know i had dry yeast instead of instant yeast!

    after i learned what yeast i had, then only i started to have success in bread making.

    that said, will try this again some day, but minus the dutch oven. too much work...

    but it's true that the longer you let the bread "wait", the better the taste.

    my favourite here is stout+rye. 8 hours wait time before first rise. damn solid!

    ps: the recipes shown on my site are nothing special. but they prove that even an idiot like me can bake bread!